Archive for June, 2017

The Search

A movie review I wrote way back in August 2013 (with some edits):

I watched The Bothersome Man, an unrated Norwegian film. The film’s protagonist, Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvåg), finds himself in a clean, efficient city after being dropped off by a bus at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. He’s given a job as an accountant, and a clean and efficient apartment which comes fully furnished, to include a wardrobe full of clean, efficient suits. His co-workers are polite and well-groomed.

Andreas’s first clue that something is wrong with this new world happens when he finds himself in the men’s room of a nightclub. An unseen man in a stall laments loudly, sadly that no matter how he drinks he can’t get drunk. He complains that hot chocolate no longer tastes or smells good. Andreas, curious about this sad man, follows him home to where the man lives in a basement apartment.

The movie progresses, and Andreas moves from one scene to the next, becoming more aware that no one around him has any real passion for life. The most common adjective used to describe things is “nice”. Andreas’s girlfriend Anne (Petronella Barker) says he’s nice. He has nice conversations with nice people, usually about the nice things they can buy from nice catalogs. Andreas and his girlfriend have nice furniture. Their meals are nice. When Andreas starts an affair with a lady in his office, she also informs Andreas that he is nice. In fact, he’s just as nice as all her other boyfriends. Even in the most intimate of relationships, one person is just as nice as the next.

Driven to the point of despair, Andreas tries to commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train. Not to give too much more of the movie away, but it doesn’t work. He limps out of the tunnel, is picked up by the ubiquitous jump-suited men who patrol the city, and is taken to Anne’s house. He stands there, broken and bleeding, and Anne informs him they have a date to go ride go-carts.

Andreas lives in a utilitarian world, where everyone’s happiness is maximized, but where there is no yearning for the true, the good, or the beautiful. Indeed, expressing such yearning, is met with disapproval. Andreas confesses to his boss that he misses seeing children (for there are no children in a clean, efficient city). The only response Andreas gets is to be quickly ignored, as if he had just said something that no one would ever admit in polite company.

The real world — the world in which at least some things are genuinely and objectively true, good, and/or beautiful — is not a clean, efficient, polite place that can be described by so weak a word as nice. The real world is glorious and tragic and scary and awe-inspiring and depressing and wonderfully full of such a mess of thoughts, sights, sounds, and experiences. The classical liberal arts embrace this apparent chaos, and seek to find the order beneath the mess of contradictions.

I often remind myself, and I remind my students, the search isn’t without hope. Through the proper use of reason, we can discover the true, the good, and the beautiful, and we can at least begin to understand that those three qualities are not always a matter of mere opinion. Some things are truly true, truly good, truly beautiful, and to disagree about those things isn’t to express an opinion. To disagree is to be wrong.

The search for the true, the good, and the beautiful isn’t easy. Many people give up after one too many disappointments. But, I am reminded of the words of a wise man. To paraphrase, those that seek without surrender will eventually find what they’re looking for.

June 23rd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Grasping the Ineffable

Lately, I’ve mulled about using Monster of the Week to run a Call of Cthulhu-style game that would be more about investigating unspeakable horrors than confronting monsters and destroying them. One of my thoughts involves replacing Luck with Madness, and treating Madness much like Harm. I’m not quite sure what that means. Regardless, I did fiddle about with a couple of new basic moves. A hunter’s Weird rating would modify that hunter’s Madness. For example, a hunter with Weird +2 would have two fewer Madness boxes.

Grasp the Ineffable
When you attempt to understand the unfathomable nature of cosmic horror, roll + Weird.

On a 10+, hold 2 and 0-madness. On a 7-9, hold 1 and 1-madness.

One hold can be spent to ask the Keeper a question. Use the questions for investigate a mystery or read a bad situation. If you act on the answers, you get +1 ongoing while the information is relevant.

Advanced: On a 12+, you may ask the Keeper any questions you want about the cosmic horror, not just the listed ones.

Maintain Sanity
When you confront sanity-blasting eldritch terror, roll + Cool.

On a 10+, you do not succumb to the terror you feel. You suffer less madness (-1 madness). On a 7-9, choose 1:

* You briefly lose control in the face of the terror. The Keeper will give you a worse outcome, hard choice, or price to pay, but you gain hold 1 as if you attempted to grasp the ineffable. This does not grant +1 ongoing while the information is relevant.
* You maintain composure, but are shaken. You get -1 ongoing until you get a chance to collect yourself.

Advanced: On a 12+, not only do you not succumb to the terror you feel, but you may choose 1:

* You gain hold 1 as if you attempted to grasp the ineffable. This does not grant +1 ongoing while the information is relevant.
* Your courage rallies all hunters involved in the confrontation, giving them +1 forward.
* You suffer no madness at all.
* You recover 1-madness.

June 21st, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Great and Terrible Wilderness

Thy heart be lifted up, and thou remember not the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage: And was thy leader in the great and terrible wilderness, wherein there was the serpent burning with his breath, and the scorpion and the dipsas, and no waters at all: who brought forth streams out of the hardest rock, And fed thee in the wilderness with manna which thy fathers knew not. And after he had afflicted and proved thee, at the last he had mercy on thee, Lest thou shouldst say in thy heart: My own might, and the strength of my own hand have achieved all these things for me. (Deuteronomy 8:14-16)

Fire Serpent
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: Bite
Special: Breath weapon, immune to fire, poison
Move: 12
Save: 15
HDE/XP: 6/400

Fire serpents, magical beasts that hunt during the heat of the day in certain deserts, appear much like normal snakes except for their brilliant scarlet coloration and the heat shimmer that surrounds them. An adult fire serpent may reach lengths between 12 and 16 feet. A fire serpent is uncomfortably hot to the touch, but not hot enough to cause immediate damage. When startled or threatened, this creature curls into striking position and exhales a gout of flame in a line 5 feet wide and 30 feet long. The blazing heat of this breath weapon inflcits 4d6 points of damage (a successful saving throw indicates half damage). A fire serpent’s bite packs a deadly poison. Those that succumb to this toxin burn from the inside.

Dipsas
Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: Bite (1d6-1)
Special: Induce thirst, surprise foes
Move: 9/6 (burrowing)
Save: 17
HDE/XP: 3/60

Another rarer sort of magical snake found in certain deserts is the dipsas, also known as the thirst snake. These snakes lurk near oases, waiting buried in the sand or within the spaces between rocks. A dispas surprises its prey 4 in 6 times. Its bite forces a saving throw to avoid magically induced thirst. This thirst is so powerful that the victim will ignore even attacks for 1d6 rounds in order to slake the maddening hunger for water. Dipsas prefer to attack prey gripped by overwhelming thirst.

June 19th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Poetry Is Like a Fist

From December 2012 and posted elsewhere:

Years ago, when my children were somewhere roundabout the 1st and 2nd grades instead of the earlier years of high school, I taught 5th through 8th grade English and reading at Resurrection Catholic School out in east Houston. On the weekends during much of the year, the school’s classrooms were used by the church for the religious education of parish children. Supervision of these children on the weekend often appeared a bit lax judging by the mess left in my classroom for me to clean up many Monday mornings.

During one of these Monday morning clean-ups, I found a spiral notebook in one of the desks. Figuring it might belong to one of my 80-or-so students, I opened it up for identifying information. The name inside was a girl’s but not any of the girls enrolled at Resurrection. She was a high school religious education student. The first page in the notebook had a poem written on it. Since I’m nosy, I read the poem, and then turned the page.

More poetry, and more reading, and then on the fourth or fifth page were these words, which I still remember to this day:

“When I close my arms, I feel you not hugging me.”

I can think of no expression of loss more succinct and yet more packed with meaning than these eleven words.

Recently, I shared these words with my students as an example of what good writing can accomplish. There’s an entire story packed into that one sentence. Who is gone? Why are they gone? How long have they been gone? Was the loss the result of a death, a break-up, a divorce? Do these words not reflect the experience of anyone who has ever lost someone they’ve loved?

Not too long ago, one of the people I follow on Google+ was complaining about his daughter’s poetry homework. I understood some of his frustration since he was having to read Maya Angelou, who I am convinced is overrated as a poet. He expressed his opinion that poetry is horrible, and on this point I disagree.

Horrible poetry is horrible. Great poetry — such as what I found on that one page of that misplaced spiral notebook — is something else entirely. Great poetry opens another person’s heart and soul to the reader, and invites the reader to share in the poet’s experiences. Great poetry even demands that the reader do so. As Calvin Hernton explained, poetry can be like a fist beating against my ear.

June 14th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Phoenix Chasuble of Acqui Terme

Shown in the pictures above are the front and back of a beautiful chasuble made by Geneviève Gomi of Maris Stella Vestments. I read about these remarkable garments on New Liturgical Movement’s site, specifically this post right here.

A chasuble is a liturgical vestment worn over other vestments. It is something like a poncho. It’s an oval-shaped (or nearly so) piece of cloth with a round hole for the priest’s head to pass through. It tends to fall below the knees all around. It originated as a adaptation of common garb worn all over the Roman Empire in the first few centuries of Christianity. Originally, the priest at the altar would have been dressed very much the lay people in attendance at the Mass. In some way, the idea of reserving a special outer garment arose, possibly for no more reason than it was easier to keep one clean if it wasn’t worn every day like normal clothing. As you can see from the pictures, chasubles today are no longer common articles of clothing, but can be works of art embroidered with ornate designs and images symbolic of religious doctrines, such as the use of the phoenix as a symbol for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My aims here, however, are significantly more modest. I’m just using a wonderful picture as inspiration for fantasy gaming.

The Phoenix Chasuble: This remarkable relic was created for the first bishop of Acqui Terme, who wore it on certain sacred days, including the day in which the bishop faced down an army of marauders at the city gates. The bishop’s words and courage so impressed the war-like chiefs of that horde that they ordered that Acqui Terme remain unharmed. For more than the past two centuries, the Phoenix Chasuble has remained in the cathedral vestry, handed down from one bishop to the next. The full powers of the Phoenix Chasuble are perhaps unknown. The wearer gains complete immunity to fire, even magical flame. He also enjoys a +4 bonus to saving throws against magic. Once per day each, the wearer can use the following magical abilities: Continual Light, Detect Invisibility, Dispel Evil, Fireball, Fly, Protection from Evil 10-Foot Radius, and Wall of Fire. The wearer can communicate with any type of fire elemental while wearing the Phoenix Chasuble. Once per week upon command, the Phoenix Chasuble causes its wearer to burst in flames. The wearer’s melee attacks inflict an additional 1d6 points of fire damage. Any creature striking the wearer in melee combat likewise suffers 1d6 points of fire damage. Usable By: Lawful Clerics only.

June 8th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »